Insulin: Unless you’re a diabetic, it’s probably one of those health terms you’re familiar with but can’t really define. However, if you’re overweight, that needs to change. Even if you’re not one of the 26 million Americans living with type 2 diabetes, insulin issues may still be hindering your health and contributing excess belly fat.
When you eat a meal, your body breaks the carbohydrates down into a sugar called glucose, and insulin is the hormone responsible for ushering that glucose into your cells so it can be used for energy. However, lifestyle factors including a diet high in processed carbs and sugary drinks can cause your body to stop responding to insulin effectively, preventing glucose from entering your cells and prompting your pancreas to pump out extra insulin to compensate. The result: excess insulin and sugar in your blood stream that leads to weight gain, especially around your middle. “If your problem area is your love handles, then you likely have high insulin levels,” says Natasha Turner, ND, hormone expert and author of The Carb Sensitivity Program. “Too much insulin encourages your body to store unused glucose as fat, and it also prevents your body from using stored fat for energy.”
The good news: Research shows that nixing processed foods and staying active can bring your insulin and blood sugar to healthy levels, and help you drop pounds for good. Even better? Certain foods may give you an extra fat-blasting boost by restoring your body’s sensitivity to insulin.
In a groundbreaking study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2010, researchers discovered that obese, insulin-resistant participants who consumed a blueberry smoothie every day for 6 weeks experienced a 22-percent improvement in insulin sensitivity, compared to only 4.9 percent in the placebo group. Plus, blueberries are low in sugar, high in belly-filling fiber, and packed with anti-aging antioxidants that benefit skin, cognitive function, and heart health.
Protein is essential for maintaining healthy body composition, blood sugar balance, and muscle growth. Whey protein in particular may also help reduce your food intake: A University of Toronto study found that eating whey protein before a meal provided satiety signals that prevented a group of healthy young adults from overeating.
High in monounsaturated fats, avocados got an undue bad rap during the recent low-fat era. Yet studies show that people sustain their nutrition program longer and see greater weight loss on a higher-fat diet that’s composed of about 30 percent heart-healthy fats (such as those found in avocados), compared to a low-fat diet. The reason: Fats can help to slow the release of sugars into the bloodstream, which leads to less insulin release. Avocados also contain a unique weight-loss friendly carbohydrate called mannoheptulose that research links to lower insulin secretions.
On a per-gram basis, chia seed is touted to be the highest source of omega-3s in nature, with 65 percent of its total fat from omega-3 fatty acids. The ancient gluten-free grain is also a substantial source of fiber, magnesium, potassium, folic acid, iron, and calcium. Research shows that chia stabilizes blood sugar, manages the effects of diabetes, improves insulin sensitivity, and aids symptoms related to metabolic syndrome, including imbalances in cholesterol, blood pressure, and high blood sugar after meals.
Cherries are a wonder food, and not just because they taste great and can satisfy your urge for something sweet with just a few calories. Scientists have identified a group of naturally occurring chemicals called anthocyanins–abundant in cherries and other red fruits–that may help to lower blood sugar levels. In early studies published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, anthocyanins were found to reduce insulin production by 50 percent. Anthocyanins are also potent antioxidants, which may protect against heart disease and cancer.